BOOSTING THE BOTS:
THE NEXT STEP
TOWARDS TREASURY DIGITIZATION
Where should the digital transformation of a treasury department begin? That’s the issue currently occupying many treasurers’ minds. How can we robotise part of the treasury process in order to gain in terms of efficiency, resources and security? This article aims to set out a gradual and logical approach to retrofitting and further digitizing your organisation. After all, the world is changing so swiftly that increased agility within a more flexible and finely tuned structure is an absolute must..
The path to digitization
If they haven’t already done so, treasurers need to firmly commit to the “digitization” of their activity. Their role is to make their organisation more resistant and more resilient, but that doesn’t just involve having a more efficient TMS. That will help, but it won’t suffice on its own. The treasury department’s IT architecture needs to be redefined as a whole, but that’s a long and complex road strewn with hazards and you might be wondering precisely where to start on it. There’s no miracle cure or plan applicable to everyone, but unless you take the bull by the horns, greater operational efficiency will remain out of reach. So once you’ve optimised the systems in place (e.g. Treasury Management System, Payment Factory and the other IT satellites and additional applications), the next stage is to install an ETF (i.e. Extract Transform Load) system in order to connect & consolidate your data and add the missing layer of reporting required. This is the ideal way of bridging gaps in terms of reporting and functionality. This phase can best be described as IT “consolidation” designed to rectify any absences and deficiencies, especially in terms of financial reports. Such a customization enables to develop dashboards and a full array of key performance indicators. This preliminary “customization” stage of system consolidation and optimisation of processes and reports cannot be skipped. Once this layer is in place, the next stage will be the deployment of robots in order to automate a series of processes.
“Unblocking” resources and power through robotisation
The overarching objective is to “unblock” the (potential) robotization power of treasury processes by automating certain repetitive, tedious or laborious processes which present systematic characteristics, even if this involves opening and searching for information in multiple IT systems. In essence, a robot is just software that will perform macros in the same way as a spreadsheet file, but on a multi-system basis and allowing the execution of an action or a successive and repetitive set of actions, possibly with calculations. RPA (i.e. Robotics Process Automation) offers us several low-cost and efficient products (e.g. Blue Prism, Automation Anywhere or Ui Path for RPA and WATSON IBM for AI) in this regard. So if robotization ever was an illusion or a chimera dream, that’s not true anymore today.
Is the financial department fit for purpose, or fossilised and static?
Entire financial departments are going to have to change and adapt. In this unavoidable evolution of finance as a whole, treasurers need to be proactive regarding their own adaptation and bring themselves up to “digital speed”. Sitting back passively while being subjected to a profound transformation would be tantamount to madness. From the following diagram, we will be focusing in particular
Robotization generates better, more agile
and more efficient processes and organisation.
Treasurers need to be
proactive regarding their
own adaptation and bring themselves up to “digital speed”.
on robotisation which, if it ever was a mere myth or pipe dream, is certainly far from it today.
This digital transformation is structured around the transformation of the entire finance department. CFOs are currently grappling with multiple challenges such as the reduction of costs, more rapid production of financial information, simplification of financial processes and reduction of red tape, playing the role of integrator, better understanding the expectations of contacts and subsidiaries, and enhancing risk management by deploying more effective predictive tools, all set against the background of tumultuous economic, regulatory, political environments and in a context of growing fraud attempts. The root-and-branch structure of finance departments is due a complete overhaul. CFOs are going to have to deliver greater agility, be more connected and more focused in terms of data, integrate new technical skills, make better use of the data at their disposal and improve the decision-making process via predictive analysis, irrespective of the technical resources deployed.
Benefits of Robotisation
“So what should be robotised?”
While robots can create value in a number of financial functions, it would appear that certain departments are more capable of generating value via the robotization of processes. Out of all financial operations, it’s departments such as treasury, taxes, financial reporting, purchase-to-pay and operational accounting where robotization makes the most sense.
In order to robotise, it’s essential to have repetitive processes of which the rules are definable and standardised (or “standardisable”), with a logical and clear sequence. Let’s take, for instance, the activities of cash management, FX, banking relations management, reporting and statistics. Ultimately, it all depends on your organisation and the process which you’ve defined. A robot will enable the definition of a flow chart and possibly the review of the process in order to be able to enhance and then implement it, such as a macro in Excel. This macro can carry out the task of a person (hence the idea of a robot) and/or access one or more databases or systems in order to perform predetermined and precise operations, even when these are numerous. Let’s demystify the robot which, at the end of the day, is nothing other than simple software, a mechanical box suited to self-assembly. And contrary to popular belief, they don’t require any in-depth technological knowledge or training.
A robot is a tool that’s relatively easy to configure, or a flow chart (and therefore documented) that will perform predefined and specified tasks. It can carry out multiple processes provided that they don’t need to take place at the same time. Basically, we’re asking a machine to replace a worker by indicating to it which tools to enter and exit and what to do within them. For instance, the treasurer sends standardised templates to subsidiaries via their e-mail inbox, which then respond.
The robot processes the e-mails and extracts the necessary information from them by scanning the response. It then imports the desired data into a spreadsheet file, saving it on a shared disk, converting the files into Word documents (text) in order to pass them onto another department for further processing. The return of the processed file will then be worked upon again and reimported in another tool (i.e. XL spreadsheet or other softwares) and finally reconciled in order to be saved and sorted. Alerts may be automatically initiated in order to monitor the process and subsequently, an artificial intelligence layer can even be added.
Return on Investment?
It’s a legitimate and frequent question. The ROI (return on investment) can be calculated by estimating the number of minutes saved per day and by multiplying the man-hours as euros. But who could fail to grasp the added value of freeing up time and relieving the daily pressure
Entire financial departments are going to have to change
Each morning or when closing the accounts? Being able to focus on the more worthwhile and rewarding tasks is motivating for employees. Are other skills required? The treasury profession currently requires more skills in terms of IT, data processing, an analytical mind and the ability to reduce IT dependency. Robots are the prior stage to artificial intelligence, which can be grafted onto them. As well as executing tasks, the machine can follow decision trees and, depending on the responses, adopt different processes and adapt itself. It seems logical to seek to eliminate errors and offer audit trails, greater productivity, coherence in the treatment of processes and greater flexibility while at the same time motivating staff. The robots are tailor-made DIY solutions which a treasurer can rapidly tailor to suit their needs. But in order to identify what would be “robotizable”, it’s essential to consider all the routine processes and what they entail, as before going ahead with the deployment of complex algorithms, it’s more logical to start by freeing yourself from the most tedious processes that are of little interest to those performing them.
The virtues of robots
This type of process is very much a win-win, as the more you automate with robots, the more satisfied your employees will be. Greater security and more internal controls help motivate teams. What’s more, the more you robotise, the more you tend to find new ideas for robotization and the more you will be capable of modelling yourselves. With robots, you’ll also be less dependent on certain IT suppliers. Of course, those who subcontract and outsource their treasury activities won’t be too chuffed to see these machines hit the scene. But with limited financial resources and little training time, the treasurer will be able to automate a series of tedious and time-consuming processes in order to enhance the comfort of their team.
The cost of a robot is ultimately low, as we’re talking about roughly €5,000 for several processes as long as they don’t take place at the same time, plus configuration and training costs. So you see, it would be a shame to deprive yourself of this flexible technology that’s adaptable to suit your needs. What might have seemed impossible and even frightening not long ago has now become simple and attractive. In this weird world of ours, everything is changing constantly, even our perception of machines. I’ll leave it to the great Bruce Lee to sign off for me: “be self aware, rather than a repetitious robot”.
In order to robotise, it’s essential to have repetitive processes of which the rules are definable and standardised.